The U.S. Department of Justice appears to be front and center lately when it comes to market interference. For an agency that promotes competition in the markets, its recent interference with the information markets and expressed opposition to certain players in the market for spectrum gives the impression of an Obama administration that truly has a preference for being intrusive, showing no trust in the ability of market players to regulate themselves.
Take spectrum, the bands of electromagnetic energy that helps transmit wireless calls and other services between consumers. The Justice Department recently opined on the process for auctioning off frequencies given up voluntarily by television broadcast stations, reallocating those frequencies for use by wireless telecommunications carriers. The Department argued that rules ensuring smaller network operators have access to low frequency spectrum (the 700 MHz block) could improve the competitive dynamic among nationwide carriers. In other words, increase the access to spectrum by carriers such as T-Mobile and Sprint at the expense of AT&T and Verizon.
The Justice Department also finds itself facing criticism for obtaining without notice phone records from a number of Associated Press reporters. While the Department has not shared specific reasons for the seizure, it was widely held that the seizure may have something to do with leaked information to the media about a terrorist plot foiled by the Central Intelligence Agency.
My fear, especially with the seizure of reporter telephone records, is that the government may find itself struggling up the slippery slope, sinking further down into the murk we call violation of constitutional rights. Given the role that the media plays in getting information from those who have and generate information to those who want and need to consume information, the Justice Department’s actions could make reporters think twice about which informants or information sources they talk to; how they correspond with those informants or information sources; and what types of articles they should write based on the information they obtain. The policy of seizing information without notice taxes society with a negative externality of uncertainty and may deprive us of good, timely, beneficial information.